At The Helm - Episode 3 | Abay Israel, Senior Product Manager at ICPSR, University of Michigan

Last updated:
March 6, 2023
min read
Shawn Massie

'At The Helm' is a series of chats with business leaders in charge of marketing programs at all kinds of brands.

Episode 3 is our interview with Abay Israel, Senior Product Manager at ICPSR, University of Michigan! We speak about his unique responsibility to the public regarding data, his favorite tools and platforms, and a little about the future with ChatGPT.

Below is the transcript:

[00:00:00] Abay. Good to talk to you man. Good to see you. I'm excited to speak with you today for episode three of this series. We're calling At The Helm. So thanks for joining. Nice. Of course. Thanks for having me. Yeah. So I, I'll quickly introduce yourself, but I would love for you to kind of walk me through your current role, but before we get there, just everyone knows.

So you're a senior product manager. ICPSR, and I'm gonna hopefully not butcher this. Inter University Consortium for Social and Political Research. Yeah. Oh, I got political, social, backwards, .

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's okay. It'll be on, it'll be on the test later, but you, you get a pass for now. We, we Great. We grade on a curve, so you,

okay, okay.

Okay. I haven't been to school in a while, so speaking to school. So it's through the University of Michigan and you, yourself for, and the Ann Arbor area. That's right. And then just real quick, I thought it was fun. It was, I was looking at the foundations that support you guys and [00:01:00] it's, it reads like an NPR list at the end of a podcast.

You know, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, bill and Melinda Gates. So you guys got some big funding or support back here.

We do. Okay. We do. Okay. Yeah, I can give you a little background about what ICPSR does, how I got here and all that, if that would be helpful. Kind of frame

the story a little bit.

Yeah, please. I'm just gonna stop talking and let you go through that .

So, hi everyone, my name is Abay Israel. I'm a product manager here at ICPSR at the University of Michigan. My story started a while back. I went to undergrad at Morehouse College, which is a small liberal arts college in Atlanta. And I studied economics and mathematics.

From there, I did a stint in investment banking and I realized that, huh, maybe I don't like money as much as I thought I did at that point, right? But I wanted something a little bit more close to the ground around people who are being innovative and doing things that I was really. Passionate about.

And I came to the University of Michigan as a data curator, a data manager. I moved [00:02:00] up a little bit doing project management, and I ran the summer internship program for 10 years. And then from there I got into product and product management and technology. When I was a curator, I like to consider myself I.

Smart, but lazy, I guess is the way I would describe it. , okay. Where and not lazy in a bad way, but like if I found a way to automate certain processes, instead of me spending hours each day doing that, I'll probably spend a day figuring out a script to do it and then get the next project. So I wanted to keep coming up with innovative ways of automating and making things a little bit more efficient.


is the best. . That's the best type of employee to have on a team, by the way. So someone who just, that's, that's what I think innovates and creates efficiencies. ,

right? And in that way, that tool could then be used by other people so that they can become more efficient. And instead of copying and pasting and moving things in that way.

We have a tool that does it for us in a few seconds and [00:03:00] we're able to use our brain in other ways that I think are just more effective. Yeah. Brilliant. Yeah. So that's how I got into kind of product at the beginning. Right. And I spent about five years building my own startup company called Yable, and we created a mobile streaming service focused exclusively on Caribbean music.

And when I was in undergrad and in grad school, cause I went to University of Michigan as well, I didn't know that this was a career path that I could. . So I sat my company and I dealt with product there as well. Vision for the product, talking to users, engaging, understanding user needs, and converting those into technical requirements with our technical stuff.

And I fell in love with the whole idea of, of solving problems with creative solutions. That's just kind of in my dna apparently.

And and real quickly, was Caribbean music being completely underrepresented in the space and that's kind of why you chose to focus on it? Or was it more of a passion for you?

Like how did that come about?

Yeah. So yes and yes. So back in [00:04:00] 2012, I think that's when things started to pick up with like the Spotifys and the Pandoras and et cetera. Caribbean music wasn't represented at all. Specifically where I'm from, it's. , I'm from Trinidad and Tobago, and we have this genre called Soca Music.

But if you, if you are not familiar with it, you don't know how to find it. If you're in the diaspora, you're kind of yearning for it and trying to connect with your home country. Mm-hmm. , and people struggle with that, myself included. Right. And even now they lump all Caribbean music into reggae or dance hall.

Right. Yeah. No offense to all those things, but each one has their own vibe, their own following, their own kind of passion. and there's a whole subculture that's connected to it. So we try to solve that problem by connecting the culture and the people who are away and disconnected from that culture to the people who are back home, you know?

Mm-hmm. and it was great. And after. After I left Yable into to radial I came back to the university kind of as full-time and I became a [00:05:00] business analyst dealing with the same kind of problems, understanding user needs, can, converting those into technical requirements, et cetera. And I introduced the whole concept of product management to ICPSR at that time.

and I worked with the leadership and we shifted the culture to understand, okay, this is a full-time job. This is something that companies should be doing. This moves us away from more waterfall structure into more agile approaches. And I became the director of product management I think for two years.

And then I had a kid and I realized I don't have the time to be

doing all this. You have two full-time jobs, all of.

Two full-time jobs. So I stepped down late last year, I think in September last year, and my replacement is awesome. Dawn Ackman, look up, she's awesome. And then I decided, I really, really like the, the hands-on kind of getting my hands duty and I decided I want to be back in the product management space.

I'm not necessarily leading the team as I was before, simply because I didn't have. [00:06:00] Gotcha. And that's where we're now I'm product manager here and been doing

the work. Right. You mentioned the whole waterfall Agile thing, and I want to get there really badly as a nerd. I like them. So ready. But but real quick, ICPSR, like, what's the mission?

What's the po what's the product itself that you guys are building and what's the problem you're solving for?

Yeah, so ICPSR is the world's largest social science data archive. And that's a lot of words to say that we. Engage in the ingest and dissemination of research data and we become that central point.

Researchers from all around the world give us data and we make sure it's safe for secondary analysis. And we provide access through either secure means, downloads restricted application, enclave, that kind of thing. And we've been doing it for a about six 60. .

Wow. Okay. So are you guys the, like the preeminent online archive for all of this?

You do all the storage and essentially any members are going to be accessing your database for all of that. .

That's [00:07:00] correct. So a lot of government agencies come to us, like Bureau of Justice Statistics, if we are thinking about health and wellness data, they come to us and yeah, we're like the central point where we disseminate this data from.

Gotcha. Okay. And how are people, I mean, like I, I was reading up a little bit about it, so maybe you could educate me, but our members who have access to this, are they doing. Searching on your site or database with the intent of finding one specific piece of information, or are they already, like, maybe they don't know what they want to find and they're trying to build a story and so they're looking through the archive.

Different types of users here, abby, right? Like there's the, the people who are in academia who, that's their job, that's their bread and butter and they are coming to i c PSR with an idea of I want to study. I dunno. Race and ethnicity in Trinidad and Tobago during the period of 1995 and 2001, they know exactly what it is and they know a researcher named John Smith III has [00:08:00] studied this and he's deposited that data with I psr, right?

So they come type in those exact same things and it pops out the dataset. It may be public, it may be restricted. And they download and they go their way and they'll be like, thank you so much. I appreciate your business. Right? Like, right. But there are other people who may not know what they're looking for and they may start the search with, I have an idea, or I have a concept.

I know I wanna study water in Flint. Right. Or I want to study. . don't know. Gimme a like criminal justice reform that happened during the Trump era, right. Those types of things. They come in and they may start from en engaging in the search term. Mm-hmm. , criminal justice reform. Trump. Right. But they also might take the other way, which is publications that deal directly with that.

Let me see what other people are doing. and then look at the data sets that they've used to then frame my own research question. Right? The third type of users are non academics at all. So, so it could be a reporter, it could be government agencies [00:09:00] that are looking for something that feeds the story or the narrative that they're trying to do, and they may not need some of the statistical analysis that we provide or those types of skills.

They just want numbers that. , if this person has done this during this time, where's your source? And that's why they come to us as well.

So are you mapping out, I'm assuming you are all these user paths or journeys and then kind of figuring out, like maybe educate me a little bit on your role responsibility in terms of the product itself, like with the UI versus the backend.

Like what exactly are you touching and how does that play into the user journeys we just spoke about?

Yeah. Yeah. So, okay, so my role when I was a business analyst five, six years ago, like I was essentially the only product manager at ICPSR, and that was my job to understand that user journey, especially when it comes to search, search and find the content.

What facets are they gonna be using? , how do they come to the page? What is their [00:10:00] strategy? What is the critical user? Do you need to get to that download point, right? Mm-hmm. , but also like on the page itself, when they find this, we call it a study page. What elements are being displayed? What button do they choose?

And that was super fun, right? Yeah, because. , I dabbled into design. I used . I interviewed quite a bit of people, like from our council members to our staff members to external users, people who've never heard it. And I started crafting these boxes and stories and then putting it in front of people to say, Hey, what does this look like?

And they're like it would be nice if this is moved over there. Okay, done. Right. What about this? Right? Yeah. And you start building a narrative of we have all these different features and. How do we then convert that into something tangible that people can use? So we take it from like a low fidelity mockup, drawing into maybe a semi high fidelity, which is HTML that people can click through or like a Adobe XD or something like that, and they start clicking through and you watch them and you're like, , this button that we put [00:11:00] here that says Access restricted data.

No one's clicking on it and they've sent us messages like, how do I download? Maybe something is up there and you start reading in between the lines and coming up with the user stories and working with the developers. On crafting what we think is important now, right? What are the must features? What are the nice style features and what can we put off or say no to for, for at least a few years, right?

Yeah, exactly. It's funny, what you're doing is not at all really that different from like what my agency will do on the marketing site. You're just doing it for the product. But it's funny to think of how the user might be the same type of user or essentially the tools and the strategies are the same.

At least there's a lot of overlap, right? So like, for example, we do a lot of user testing. And with the user testing you can have prompts where you're asking the users to navigate a certain way, and at certain stages we ask them like, what did you think of that experience? And like, what frustrated you, et cetera.

Sometimes they will structure a test and basically just start 'em somewhere and [00:12:00] see where it goes. And then you're just kind of like you said, you're noting down like what they did or didn't do. And I don't know if you guys get this in products, but there's a concept of rage clicks in a lot of marketing sites where we don't,

we don't ,

so you can probably assume what it is, right?

It's like you think something's clickable, but it's not. And we track how many times someone goes click, click, click, click, click, click on image for. And it's a hint that like this should, it looks at least like a button. We should make it a button or we should re redesign this in a way that it's not


Oh, I'm gonna implement that for sure. I want it, I want to read quick button. .

Yeah. All that heat mapping and user testing data is so invaluable, I think. And another, real quick, another little anecdote I had was when we thought on a certain brand that the button that said reset next to a. Was clearly a reset button to reset your filters and clear 'em out.

The way it was positioned looked like it was the search button. So on user testing videos, as they're saying out loud what they're [00:13:00] doing, they would say, okay, I'm gonna apply this filter, this filter. Now I'm gonna hit search. And they would click reset and they would be confused because they didn't get the search results.

And it clearly says, , but just because of the position. You know, someone thought it was a search button and there's those absolutely things that you just never realize unless you go through the exercise and find out all those little nuggets.

I agree. And it's not just the, the surveys that you do, right?

Oh, it's not just watching them. It's all those things in combination, like the analytics behind it as well. Question, do you guys do like. Personas and like user journey mapping and those kind things too. Oh, we're the same job, abby. We're in the same

job. We, we honestly are touching very similar day-to-day, like, you know, tools and strategies.

I, I feel like there's a lot of overlap in the diagram. I

agree. I agree. It's awesome. Good.

But we can talk nerdy . Yeah, well that's the point of this kinda conversation too. . Cause I want, I love sharing those little tips and strategies with people who are getting into this for the first time. Yeah. But for you, [00:14:00] so you guys have this really big, I guess like, would you call it a responsibility to have all of this data not only stored and accessible, but be able to be found?

Like, do you feel that weight, I guess, behind some of it?

With, with great power comes great responsibility. abby, tease you up

for that one right there, .

You did. Yeah. It's, it's a big deal, right? Granted, no one's dying tomorrow, but like taking data security as like a high priority is a big deal. And as we get more.

Types of sensitive data, and that's kind of one of the projects that I'm working on now. It becomes even more important, right? Mm-hmm. , because people want access to, to content data as, as you would know, is becoming currency. And we are kind of both the, the exchange and the, the bank , right? Like the place that it's stored and the place that it's, it's kind of [00:15:00] shared.

and it is a big weight, but we're not doing it a lot. Right. We, you mentioned some of the foundations, the bill and Gates foundations for foundation. A lot of people are interested in making this data accessible and making it useful to people, but also doing it in a way that is equitable as well.

Right, right. So yeah, so definitely that's a weight, but it's also, it's an opportunity for us to keep growing in the right direction.

Yeah, I, I could see the emphasis on equitable or fair in terms of like the data that's surfaced from searches and you know, there's a lot of things at play that probably, you know, wouldn't be the first thing I think about when I come to a site like that.

But probably all considerations once you get down to it. .

That's right. Keep in mind we have tons of different partners. Even Google that we work with, Google, they have like a Google data project that they're working on and they've, they've used some of our schema to kind of map how it should be done.

So, you know, things like that while we [00:16:00] start some of the conversations, people take those ideas and run with it and create innovative stuff. And I just think it's cool. Right. I, I think we're changing the world. I think. We are doing our little part to make everything better. And, and in being in product, you get to be on the ground level with that.

Right. Speaking of Google, do you guys have, I haven't checked this yet, but do you have the site indexable by Google so that there's deep linking through to the study pages and things like that that can be found through Google?

We do, we do . Um, There's certain pages that we do the new little script, I can't remember what the thing is, that we don't want them to index certain pages.

Yeah. For example, like we have an entire study term. , like through a A, through Z of the different types of subject terms that, that you can do. Mm-hmm. , we don't want people to necessarily find all those things, but the study level information and the, the available data sets. Yeah. All that is index. People can just search and find it.

Yeah. That makes sense. Okay, so I have a [00:17:00] good concept of the, the platform and the, the mission I guess. So kind of tell me through like more of the I guess finer details of day-to-day with things like the, you mentioned a couple tools, baso and mm-hmm. , Adobe Xd or Figma maybe, and things like that.

What are like some of the most common things open on your computer day to day and like maybe if you list those, I have some questions for you about some favorite tips here. .

Oh geez. Okay. Well, let me phrase it a little bit. I CPSR


a large organization doing incredible work. The project that I'm currently working on that I want everyone to look out for it, you know, it hasn't launched yet.

It's coming in a few weeks, is a social media archive, so deals exclusively with social media data. Awesome. We should check it. If you hit me up, probably DM on this side, I can share you a little secret. It's coming. It's awesome. Our partners want to share some of this data in a way that is safe and and we don't expose people's confidential information, right?

So, right. That makes sense. We have this social media data. People [00:18:00] apply and they get access to it within a secure data enclave that you can copy and paste out of it. Right. So I'm framing my tools with respect to this current project that I'm. . Mm-hmm. . In terms of tools, right? Must have Google Docs because collaboration, you want to be able to write up some of these documentations as quickly as you can, get people to give feedback, put comments, those kind of things.

Second slack, whew. All day, all day, every day. I'm on Slack. Do you, okay. Slack.

Do you find it distracting or do you find it productive

or both? both. So ICPSR is kind of like a family. We have different slack channels where we have all the product managers are in one channel. If you are on a project that's on a different channel, but there's other things like dogs of ICPSR, right, or gamers or whatever it is that's there.

We have a gamers one too.

kinda like peak intense and be. You know, long, I haven't played a video game , right? To kinda just see, but I think it's essential because [00:19:00] my job and the role that I have, I want to be in constant communication with, with my stakeholders. and that's the quickest and easiest way. Fax an email by far,


Oh, totally agree. If you can get it across in a quick message, there's just, you're saving minutes per message for every time you gotta open Outlook or whatever you use and craft the email, wait for a response, et cetera. Although I know that there's like, I dunno if you guys have this, but we have certain rules where it's like after certain hours you switch over to email because you don't necessarily wanna be ping someone at 6:00 PM 7:00 PM with a message.

Some of us have the ability to filter that out and some don't. And so you feel the need to, you know, especially if it's coming from like a manager or supervisor or something like that. Yeah, that's critical. We found that to

be pretty critical. We set those boundaries earlier in our life cycle of implementing Jira.

Like sound nudge slack, because like, that's one of the trade offs from working from home, right? Like ev you're always connected all the time and you felt like you have to respond right away. In our product [00:20:00] management group, we said, okay, some of the sands are, you know, after five 30 on a Friday.

don't expect someone to respond. You can put a message, but just don't expect them to respond right away. Right. Right. And our director, Maggie, she is, she comes up with ideas all the time and she's just like jotting them down quickly in, in, and we had to make it clear to the entire organization, like just because she says it.

Don't, doesn't mean drop everything that you're doing to do these things. It's not a mandate.

Yeah. Sometimes you just need to get it outta your head. .

Right. And I think it works fine, right? Right. But yeah, so Slack definitely communication. We want to make sure that's there. Email is fine. Google chat is fine.

Project management are hinted at it. Jira, we use that all the time. I've tried Asana and Trello, but Jira I think connects to what the developers are doing and I'm able to. , user stories, acceptance criteria, comments, all those in one bucket. Mm-hmm. . And then we can have things on the release train kind of connected.

This ticket is past this stage and it goes to this next level, which is then ready for deployment. [00:21:00] So Jira for sure. Analytics. , I would say Google Analytics I used to use all the time. Now I, I don't have my product, my new product out yet, so I haven't really looked at that yet.

Are you, do you have a GA four migration plan coming up or


It its coming. It is coming. Oh, you, you want the, you want the contract? No,

I mean we, we, we've already helped actually a few brands with it, but there's a lot of kicking the cane going down the road right now. Yeah. Few brands, and that makes sense, right? Because you're kinda, there's a little bit of a new approach to how you're interpreting the data, but also the con the continuity of the data as well.

So, , but it's anyways. Yeah, we don't have to get into the GA four. Yeah.

I mean we have, we have Google Analytics on most of our websites now, right? Yeah. And we have a standard we are looking at and generating reports for our clients, so, right, right. So it's there, it's just, that's not our primary focus right now because we're planning to launch first.

Right. Right. And when we launch, chances are we're gonna iterate and say, okay, we didn't get this right the first time. Right. So we do wanna [00:22:00] put a bunch of tags and stuff just yet. Other tools. So I mentioned Balsamic, but I, I'm just a fan of Adobe the Adobe suite. So I, I dabble in Photoshop Illustrator, but Adobe XD is really creative.

So you using that for all your wire framing, I'm assuming

and Yeah. Adobe XD and Balsamic, those are my two go-to. I've used things like Figma. . Marvel was another one.

Yeah. We used for that both. Oh. We like, we use Figma quite a bit too.

Figma is nice. It's, but again, I just, I'm used to the workflow in Adobe, that's all.

Yeah. One thing I like about Adobe more is the comments. I feel like it's a little bit better of a flow when you're scrolling through a few different designs or frames and you can kind of see the comments like pinning to it. . But Figma, I just love the ability to kind of . Sometimes I'm guilty of this, where I just scroll over the place and I'm showing things here and there, and it's more of a brain mapping exercise.

But I, I love Figma for that.

Speaking of brain mapping, white whiteboarding, I use Miro mural. Ooh. That's my go-to solution [00:23:00] for like, when you have ideas and you have a team and you want to bring some, put ideas. , we do even some of our planning and sprints in mural, right? We would have a, a discovery sprint, which defines who our users are.

User mapping , empathy maps, those kind of things in mural. And we have these different slides that you can just move around and zoom in, right? Yeah. Then we do our design phase in mural. We copy and paste some of the designs, put it in there, and we have sometimes stakeholders, like 20 or 40 stakeholders watching the same mural board moving around at the same time, so, oh, wow.

Yeah. Yeah. So Miro say is up there, and then for like retrospective

Miro. Oh, yeah, Miro, shout out. Are you familiar with the Miro?

I am not familiar with the Miro. Very,

oh, go look. Okay. Well maybe soon you'll be, cause I know, I know someone who's dedicating their time to that. Her name's El Omar. She's great.

She's focused on the u GC side of Miro right now. So, you know, in Miro you can basically create. , [00:24:00] whatever you create, you can share with the community and you can kind of Yeah. Mural can share that with anyone basically that's searching for a certain template or a certain type of board that's already been created.

And the mural verse is becoming like kind of their I don't wanna spoil it, but it's more so like uh, The, the hub, if you will, for like all the user generated content and there's gonna be some like gamification in there and some really exciting things. So if you've got some good templates, I would share them there.

I think it's a, I think it's a great question.

That actually sounds really exciting. Me in touch. I, I wanna play around with some toys. ,


will. I think that kind of covers it. Oh, the, we do retrospectives after each sprint too. A sprint is just a time box, two week period where we use to, to do the development work.

Yeah. And we use Jamboard, which is kind of like a small offshoot of Google. Mm-hmm. , it's free and people can just put cards in on. We found it really effective.

Okay. So this is kind of a question. I don't know if you were ready for it, but out of all the ones [00:25:00] you listed right now, , your allocated time that you're spending in them probably isn't ideally what you would love to be spending more time in.

Yeah. If you had to pick one of the ones you just listed out, where do you feel like your time's most efficient or more effective?

Jesus. Oh, choose Jira. I would say Jira because that's, that's where we have. Decisions being documented and actions being taken to develop the, the, the ask. Yeah, it was, it was close between Jira and Slack, but I would say Jira

is my, that's a, Hey. It's a great answer. It's a great answer. So, okay. Final answer.

Final answer. . I wanted to ask you, thank you for sharing the tools so. . Now I kind of have like a sense of like how you're getting it done and what you're trying to accomplish, but ultimately everyone has stakeholders to please and in your case, you might have stakeholders who are aware of what you guys are trying to do and they're technical.

But you also probably have some some non-technical stakeholders who will [00:26:00] call 'em that, right. . That's right. So as a senior product manager, one thing I always, sometimes I bear witness to is how a PM is kind of communicating not only the sprints and this epics, but also like what they're trying to accomplish or what some of the roadblocks or milestones coming up are, things like that.

So do you have any tips or I guess like ways that you manage those conversations when you're talking to someone who might be more non-tech? .

Yeah, definitely. So for me, and you would probably notice this, abby, I get really excited and I talk quickly, , right? I'm just like really passionate about the work that we're doing.

Yeah. The first advice was when talking to a non-technical stakeholder is slow down. Slow down and don't make any assumptions that they know what you're talking about right off the bat. Yeah. The, so if you have any assumptions or biases, list those out immediately. You can even repeat yourself, say this is what we're here to meet about.

These are the things that I'm thinking and I would like to [00:27:00] gain X at the end of this conversation. The, from that point, I think the strategy is to try to build trust. . The non-technical folk. And the technical folk, and even the product manager who's, who's kind of like that go-between mm-hmm. . Because once you have that trust, they actually listen to you more.

Right? And they, they, they, they sit forward, right? And like, okay, this which you

did by the way, you sat forward a little bit and got me engaged. I saw that , you probably didn't even notice you

did it . I, I didn't, I didn't. I would. If you're talking with non-technical folks, try to speak often with them because they may not get it the first time.

Mm-hmm. , but then listen. Listen more. Right. Because they may have questions but not, they may not feel comfortable to ask those questions cause they don't want to necessarily. Be considered, you know, ignorant on, right. I don't, I don't know what [00:28:00] schema means. Right. And they're in a group of 20, 30 people, they're not gonna ask that question, but then they get lost because it's a, it's a core piece of what we're talking about.

That's a great point. Yeah. Okay. And I think finally it's all else feels, no, not all else feels, use it as part of your tool. Draw pictures and use analogies to say, this is like this, and this is what I mean when I say I need a dropdown box that explains the use case. And the Dropbox dropdown box is like giving person, giving someone a shortcut to fill out details and they're like, okay, I get it.

Get it. Right.

So that's great by the way the stakeholders sometimes maybe you've experienced. Will throw curve balls your way, or maybe they'll throw out more of a business challenge or hurdle. Have there been any of those you've come across and like, how have you gotten around those? I'm sure you have

all day every day, abby, that's what it is.

That's part of the, the, the job, right? [00:29:00] Like, right. They may have specific needs from the business perspective, and you should never ignore those needs. Right. You should listen first. Like, like I said, listen, listen, listen. When they're talking about their business needs, your job as a product manager is.

Define or help define the what? What are you asking for? And go past the I want this, I want this now. I want this because I'm spending money. Go past that point. Get that outta your head. Yeah. If they're saying, I want something, you define that. What? And then you get to the why, right? Why do you want this business thing or this objective that you're talking about?

What is the business? The business value that's being achieved when you do X. And once you get to that Y, you can ask them three times, five times, whatever, you get more rich data. And then if it becomes, they're asking y and the answers is, I don't know, they sometimes turn around and be like, you know what it, I don't really need it that much.

I can do this other thing. [00:30:00] Or someone else can jump in and be like, oh, you need that too. I need that as. And we are doing X to do it, but I wish we had something else to do it, and then someone else jumps in and all of a sudden it becomes, instead of a tense situation, it becomes a brainstorming and then everyone leaves the conversation excited.

That's a great point. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We can do this, but we not, we didn't necessarily do this the original way you, you said it, but we have a better way that's doing it and everyone comes out way now, right. Like, right. Like that's how you want to, to handle some of these conversations. And sometimes you might want to handle it with just saying, , that's a great idea.

But we are not gonna do this at this time because we're also focused on X and we are doing X and Y because of these things. And we can put it on our, in our parking lot or icebergs or whatever you, you said, and we'll come back to this during the next meeting. And if it stays in the parking lot for a year, the understanding of agreement is.

It's gone. Right? Like it's

not that important. it got, it got towed from the parking lot. It's,

it got towed, right? And [00:31:00] people, they understand that right? And they understand like something that I need now and I haven't been, I've been asking for it the first day and then a month from now it's not really important and.

Yeah, we got away from spending resources on things that


don't need. Yeah, that's a great point about the the speaking up or having others speak up about, oh, we've been trying to solve that problem also, but we do it this way, or we've got this handy sheet, or it's always something that lives on a local machine or something like that.

and, and it's like to you probably that's like a eureka moment of like, I can just knock out all these things at once by solving this one problem. And okay. Yeah, we, we've come across that sometimes, and I, myself hand up am guilty of being the guy that does something sometimes on the local machine with the sheet or whatever, because it's just familiar, you know, how I can solve this right now in Excel versus trying to go through some other, you know, prompt.

But I do think that it's important to surface those and, and create that. I. [00:32:00] environment where people feel safe to share, no matter how silly it may sound, how you've been trying to deal with some problems or what those problems are. Cuz it could be a quick fix, you know how to solve right now, right? You just gotta train them on something.

Yep. But

openness and trust, John. Openness. Openness and trust. And the ability to, to, to be able to present your ideas in a way that people aren't gonna ridicule you about. Exactly. And. You know how many problems can be solved just by those two things. Yeah. You

know? Yeah. So do you guys have like a score?

I'm assuming you do some in Jira. Maybe it's the scoring model of how important something is and like what job to be done or problem it's trying to solve and that kind of thing. .

Yeah. We tried a bunch of different things. Nothing has stuck to the point where I'm like, yes, absolutely. We want to do this.

Mm-hmm. , we've done like the priority matrix, you know, high impact, high effort. Tried to find that balance between mm-hmm. The different metrics we've done. Things like Bayesian models [00:33:00] that wasn't really effective because people just got lost in that. Mm-hmm. , we've done like critical. critical user journey elements versus non-critical, nice to have.

What I found worked really well is must have nice to haves, could have, don't need, you know, those kind of simple words. Simple, yeah, simple With then level of effort that's required in terms of sizing. . Yeah. And we've done things like story points, 1, 5, 3, FCI sequences, whatever. But you can use ant, mushroom, hipple, whatever, right?

Like whatever it is. It doesn't really matter. T-shirt sizes, big, large, medium, small, whatever, right? Like, yeah, we do extras, medium, whatever, but it's. , you want to speak where everyone else is and they, they want to feel comfortable saying, ah, that's an extra medium. Right, right. And they know what it means.

And because this is an extra medium that makes this [00:34:00] one a large, but the large has high impact. We need to do the large. So we are gonna hold off on the extra medium for now, and people get consensus around it. One really, really important piece, and I learned this the hard way. It is not. The design or the tool that you use to build your roadmap, that doesn't matter.

It is getting alignment from your stakeholders to believe that the roadmap is achievable. That is it. when everyone is on board and they be like, yes, this is the roadmap. I have my input on it. I see where my thing is, and I know what's coming next. I think that's, I think that's the crucial step, not how pretty it is.

Not what tool you're gonna be using, not how many elements of the, that does not matter. Yeah. Get, get alignment around that roadmap and that vision and make sure that is visible. Like everyone sees it in the organization and they.

Oh yeah. Or print it. Actually put it on the wall and have it in front of you.


I, I have my [00:35:00] roadmap tattoo. Right. .

It's a black light one. You have to, right, right,

right, right. But every time I have to,

that's such a good point though. I mean, like having the. The tool really like you. The only time you really think about it is when it's getting in the way, when the, when it's not doing what it's supposed to do. And it's making it a little harder to get to the, to build the roadmap or to do what you need to do.

But other times it should just be in the background. It should be the thing that's enabling you to make the meat of the actual roadmap. So I love that.

Agreed. Agreed. It. But you say background, I say make it visible, but don't let it like be a burden on you. Like it should never be a burden. It should be like, Yeah, we're working towards this vision here.

Right? Right. As opposed to every day we're, we build a roadmap, it looks pretty un fancy, and then tomorrow we have to update it because it doesn't make sense anymore. Exactly. Our timelines, and that happened so many times [00:36:00] in, in my earliest stage of my career, and it's like, I wish I learned that earlier.

Okay, so you could not have teed up a better segue here. So as we're getting to the end of this, I just want to kind of hear mm-hmm. , you've been here for a lot of like, what, 10 plus years at the ICPSR. Is that right? Yeah, man, through the internship? Yeah. Wow. Wow. Okay. So I'm not trying to doctor your age here, but I am trying to ask , what, what's what, like in your career so far and like in lot of those, like over the years you've learned, like if someone's coming into like, let's say your first role at ICPSR now.

what would be like the, those strategies or those tips that, or the wisdom that you would impart on someone like that? Sometimes it takes the form of like, look, a lot of this is gonna come your way, but it's really important for you to make sure you focus on blank, blank and blank. That kind of a statement.

Yeah. Like what's some of that wisdom you would give to a new product? Someone joining the product team essentially.

Yeah, someone who's new to the product management space in [00:37:00] general, I'm joining the I ICPSR SR team or any product management sp team. Yeah. My first thing is this is both a technical role.

Well, understanding technology and for a minute, but also a people role. There are certain skill sets and traits that you want to continue to build up, and I'll kind of list them as they come to my head. I'll start with like resilience, the ability to, to take the hits, fail fast and don't let it de like detract you from what you're trying to do.

Mm-hmm. , learn from it and. be able to tell people no and why it's no, but also like, like celebrate your failures, because that's an opportunity to grow. The second thing I would suggest is if you can build in yourself that curiosity for understanding the why, understanding who your users are and why they want to achieve [00:38:00] X understanding.

how technology works and how you can use it to better suit your value proposition and be hungry to, to, to just gain knowledge in a world that we're living in now, machine learning, AI that's coming, that's becoming like the, the hot new topic chat, GPT is my thing. Like, I love, I love, love, love, love it, right?

But, Don't be afraid to, to say that you don't know what it is, but try to learn more because it's going to play a role in your career, whether you like it or not. Yeah. And then kind of like tying those two elements together, the resiliency and the, the, the curiosity, I would say it's empathy for, for the people around you, whether it's your stakeholders, your developers.

Designers, friends, your users, whatever, right? You want to put yourself in their shoes so that you can better communicate communicate with them, and you [00:39:00] can build products that they want or build things that they would say, wow, this, this person gets me. , right? Mm-hmm. . In terms of on the, the other side of it, practical side, if you're having a meeting, bring food because you know, if it's present people Right.

Keep your meeting shortened to the point. Respect people's time. Yeah. You know, you don't need a meeting if it can be done through email, right? Yeah. Be good friends with your DevOps team because they usually don't get recognized and they're a crucial part of any kind of like tech environment that should

be at the topic.

Your list. That's a big Oh

my god, dude. And they know where all the skeletons are, right? So it's like, yeah, like be good friends with them. Right. Build those relationships, not just with them. I'm just using them because I know, like I wish I knew that at the beginning. A lot of

unsung heroes on that team.


lot of unsung heroes for sure. And then if you are new to product management, I would say look for a mentor, someone who's been through all the things that you are thinking about going through, and, and take the [00:40:00] advice that that person gives you to heart and try to do better. Yeah.

All right. That's a great way to end right there.

Maybe you're the future mentor to somebody here. , . No, I mean, I'm learning a lot already. I love this kind of conversation, so , real quick before we end, what's your favorite chat, GPT thing so far that you've played with? Ooh, use

case. Oh my God. Oh my God. Okay. Okay. So I'll, I'll tell you, I actually introduced my other product managers to chat GPT.

We were doing kind of like. coming up with our values for the organization, right? Values for what? Our team is known for, our value statement, right? And they had a bunch of ideas and they're tossing around ideas, brainstorming, and I'm like, guys, we can just plug this into chat g, pt, and it'll come up with a sentence.

They're like, no, you can't do that, . I'm like, okay, you guys, go ahead. Click, click, click, click, click. I copied and piece of it. Intermural, , intermural, . And they were. , you just came up with this. I was like, no chat. You cheated. And they're like, what is going on? I say, I for one, welcome our AI [00:41:00] overlords because you know, they , they, this is the future, right?

But in like that's product management stuff. In terms of fun stuff, I would, I wish I knew more coding, like more more like Java or Python or even like Swift. I wish I did it in undergrad. I. , but now that's my, like my go-to thing. Like I would say, okay, I want to build this element on this page. I don't necessarily want to have to hire a developer to do it, but if I'm playing wrong with it, I would say chat g pt, give me the H D M L code with c s s and some JavaScript that does my page that does X, Y, and Z, right?

Yeah. It pops it out and then I can respond to, yeah, well I wanna move this out and this page, and it just gives me a. Yeah. Awesome, awesome. .

It's insane. We, you, you have to be careful cuz you obviously have to like kind of review what it's sp spit out. But we did this on a very smaller scale with in search console just like ga if you're trying to filter to a certain, let's say group of pages or content [00:42:00] group or something like that, and you don't have any sort of like u URL structure set up a certain.

you usually have to do a RegEx filter and it's all these like long commands. Yeah. And now with touch b t, you could be like, I make a RegEx for, and you just plug it the list in, and then it does it and you're like, thank you. And you plug it right over into gsc. It's a lifesaver. It's incredible. So, I

know remember when we had to learn this stuff,

Remember when we had to learn sequel and red reject in like

we're going back to the very beginning of smart but lazy , it'll come full circle.

That's right. I mean, it is the case that like people are afraid of this, right? They're afraid of where, where their jobs are going to go. We are at a crossroads now that the way how we view work, the way how we view how computers can engage with us, like now is the time to get in and understand it.

Mm-hmm. , because it's only going to get smarter and, and for me, like I mentioned, the social media [00:43:00] archive that we're building. No, if anyone is listening to this and your part of chat GT or any AI tool, can I get your data real quick? Like, like, you know, it's like, like I

guess you're just living not right here.

What people are putting in chat gbt, honestly,

let's. Think about it, right? Yeah. Because like, like the next generation of researchers are gonna be looking at this stuff and be like, this is where it started from and this is where it is now. Mm-hmm. . And they can then use, oh, people are looking for these types of elements.

This is a business model for someone, right? Or this is a tool and innovative tool that we can create. Or this is a whole different AI that can be built. Something on top of chat GPT that says homework x . Well, you know what? Whatever, right? Yeah. What you said coding design. , like I use Mid Journey as well.

That's for like graphics and stuff like that. Mm-hmm. , all of those things are just gonna get smarter and I am, I am [00:44:00] here for it, dude. Like I am here to the point where if I can get I already told my director like, if anything dealing with ai. Or making things smarter and better for users. Don't even ask, just assume that I'm in

There you go. I'm gonna, I'm gonna end on that high note. Honestly, I, I know we can keep going. We probably will when I turn off the record here. But it's a pleasure, a thank you so much for doing this. And us get a little peek into your, it's so fascinating. So thank

you. Thank you for having me, and thanks for doing this.

I, I think this is fun and I look forward to, to all the other interviews that you're gonna be doing.